Female directors had a banner year in 2019, but Hollywood still has a long way to go in the quest for gender parity, a new study found.
Women were at the helm of 12 of the top 100 films of 2019 and comprised 10.6% of those directing feature films — the highest percentage 13 years, according to a USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report, released today.
However, the percentage of directors from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups dipped from 2018's high of 21.4% to 16.8%, the research found.
"For the first time in the 13 years since we've been doing this investigation, there has been a historic uptick in the number and percentage of female directors working across the top 100 films for last year. The number and percentage are double. And from 2007, it is triple roughly," Dr. Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, told "Good Morning America." "What we're seeing is -- finally -- an industry that is catching up with this idea that women desire to direct. What has been lacking is access and opportunity. And it seems as if things are starting to finally move in a progressive direction."
However, there still is a long way to go. The new study used scores from Metacritic -- an aggregation site -- and found no differences in average or median scores for male or female-directed movies, or those by white or underrepresented directors. Smith noted that women of color received the highest average and median scores, but added that research indicates that they are the least likely to direct the top 100 films year over year. Smith suggested that one can assume studios rely on "a subjective view of storytellers" when they hire directors.
"It's really important when we talk about female directors to ensure that we're not just perpetuating what Hollywood has been doing. When they think of a female director, they typically think of a white woman," she told "GMA." "Much more progress needs to happen behind the camera because there's still an epidemic of invisibility facing women of color."
All women are also at a disadvantage when it comes to awards season, the findings show. Only 5.1% of best director nominees across the Golden Globes, Academy Awards, DGA Awards, and Critics’ Choice Awards are female, and just four individual women have ever been nominated. Kathryn Bigelow is the sole female winner.
"These governing bodies, whether it's the press or an industry organization, they're really behind the times," Smith noted. "Their view or template of a director is still a very narrow and stereotypical conceptualization."
Luckily, things appear to be on the upswing. Also, last year, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative teamed up with Time's Up to launch the 4% challenge, urging members of the entertainment industry to pledge to work with a female director at some point over the next 18 months.
Also, the new report indicates that from 2015 to 2019, 34.5% of directors of feature films in U.S. Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival were women, and 20% of Netflix’s 2019 directors of U.S. fictional films were female.
"The pipeline is strong and 2019 illuminates that," Smith told "Good Morning America." "Studios and many majors are finally catching up when it comes to access and opportunity."